Thursday, November 11, 2010

The instant you speak about Africa you miss the point

We are all familiar with the situation where we have forgotten the name of a person or place and cannot produce it in spite of the utmost concentration. We have it 'on the tip of our tongue' but it just will not come out, until we give up and shift our attention to something else when suddenly, in a flash, we remember the forgotten name. No thinking is involved in this process. It is a sudden insight.

Another well known example of spontaneous intuitive insights are jokes. In the split second where you understand a joke you experience a moment of 'enlightenment'. It is well known that this moment must come spontaneously. It cannot be achieved by 'explaining' the joke, only with a sudden intuitive insight into the nature of the joke do we experience the laughter the joke is meant to produce. It cannot be achieved by 'explaining' the joke using intellectual analysis.

There is an excellent Zen phrase that says 'The instant you speak about a thing you miss the mark.'

All verbal descriptions of reality and personal experiences ('enlightenment'), could therefore be seen as inaccurate and incomplete. Ultimately, when we wish to communicate our experiences we are confronted with the limitations of language.

Traditional people of the world (San Bushman of southern Africa, American Indians, Australian Aboriginal people etc.) developed several different ways to deal with this problem. Their statements and descriptions of the nature of reality,  personal and cultural 'enlightenment' are in the form of myths, using metaphors and symbols, poetic images, similes and allegories. Mythical language is much less restricted by logic and common sense. It is full of magic and of paradoxical situations, rich in suggestive images and never precise, and can thus convey the way in which mystics experience reality much better than factual language.

It is therefore easy to grasp the misunderstanding that took place between Traditional people of the world and Westerners when they initially met during Western range expansion and colonisation, but that is a completely different story.

Ultimately I could explain what an unbelievable experience it is to travel and explore southern Africa, but I would be missing the point. I would be heavily confronted by the limitations of language. There is only one way to reach African 'enlightenment' and your friends, that have already been to visit this fascinating piece of the world, will also not be able to explain it to you. You can only experience it for yourself.